Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, February 16, 2018

THE OPF [F, 2-16-18]

 When I was a child in Indianapolis, from ages 4 to 10, my parents talked about seeing street lamplighters at work when they had lived there as young marrieds around 1930. [1]

I was intrigued, and I was sorry, sorry that the lamplighter was no longer a job. Even at that young age, I thought it would be great to have a job where you could create light in darkness. My main foes—the bullies and the bogeyman and the devil and girls--were all less likely to grab you in the light.

So when I heard some old preacher tell one of those old preacher stories about the kid told his parents about seeing the lamplighter by saying he had seen a man “punching holes in the darkness,” that became one of my favorite sermon illustrations. And one of my favorite images for myself, for who I wanted to be. “He made the night a little brighter, wherever he would go. The old lamplighter, of long, long ago.” [2]

We all have such images of ourselves, I think, from literature or movies or life, images of who we would like to be. It’s not quite the same as having a hero, but it’s just as important. We need those images as reminders, iconic post-it notes of how we are supposed to act.

Through the years, my images of who I want to be have changed, but they are all take-offs of the old lamplighter. Our younger daughter says she thinks of me as Gandalf the Grey, not so much repairing the breach, as standing in it. I like that, too.

Maybe the images we had when we were younger are no longer relevant. Maybe we have outlived or outgrown them. But as we face the irrelevancy of old age, it is important that we keep some image before us that allows us to be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.

This comes up now because at our Ash Wednesday service, Isaiah 58:6-12 was read in a translation unfamiliar to me. It ends with “You shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets to live in.”

So now I have another image to pull myself forward—“The restorer of the streets to live in.” Streets to live in: So kids can play ball and ride bikes. So folks can take soup to their sick neighbors. So the post office guys and the UPS gals can deliver gift books. So people can go to work and school and church and basketball games. So the ambulance can take folks to where they can get help. So the police and firefighters can get to your house on time. So the marching band can lead the parade. Streets where you don’t have to worry about someone mowing you down with an AK-47.

In other words, The Old Pothole Filler, The OPF. I kind of like that. “He made the street a little smoother, wherever he would go…”


1] Gas street lamps, and thus lamplighters, existed well into the 20th century. Baltimore was the first American city to use gas street lamps and did not do away with the last of them until 1957.

2] “The Old Lamplighter.” Lyrics by Charles Tobias, music by Nat Simon. Published in 1946.

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